Victims' Rights Laws Being Abused To Hide The Identities Of Cops Involved In Use Of Force Incidents

from the when-it-comes-to-LEO-opacity,-any-law-will-do dept

A law filled with good intentions and vague wording is, more often than not, a law named after the victim of a crime. So-called "Marsy's Laws" are being passed in states that grant crime victims extra rights, often at the expense of the accused's Constitutional rights. As Scott Greenfield explains, "Marsy's Laws" insert crime victims into a process that isn't theirs to be inserted into. Once a crime has been committed, the government takes over and it's between the prosecutor and the accused from that point forward. As harsh as it may sound, crime victims aren't in need of extra rights. Any effort made to "fix" this nonexistent problem only deprives others of their rights.

Prosecutors represent the government, not the victims or their families. The only party with rights in a criminal courtroom is the defendant, both because the Constitution provides it and because the defendant is the only person whose liberty is at stake.

It’s not that there is no way for a victim, or family, to obtain “justice.” They can sue civilly for their loss, in which case they will be a party to the proceeding, will be capable of choosing their own strategy and pursuing it as they deem fit. But the force of the state, the power of the police, the punishment of imprisonment or worse, is not there for the sake of the victims. It’s not theirs to use, and they get no say in the decisions that are ultimately made.

Most of these laws grant crime victims extra privacy. The laws block the release of identifying info about victims under the theory this will head off harassment of victims and their families. This privacy shield contains no exceptions for government employees, so of course it's being abused to protect people whose public service positions wouldn't normally allow them to keep their names out of the news. Scott Shackford has more details at Reason:

What on earth does a victim's rights law have to do with a police officer demanding to conceal his identity from the public? According to the Rapid City Journal, the officer in question shot 21-year-old Kuong Gatlauk following a confrontation during a traffic stop. According to the police report, Gatlauk made statements intending some sort of self-harm and fled from a police vehicle. In a confrontation, he apparently threw a beer can at the trooper and then tackled the trooper and tried to steal the trooper's gun, according to this report. The trooper was able to keep his gun and shot the suspect twice.

Because Gatlauk was subsequent charged with assaulting the trooper, the trooper is claiming the right under Marsy's Law to have his or her name kept confidential, even though this action happened in the course of public police work and much of the records involved are public records. The state's attorney general has agreed.

Considering how easy it is to "assault" an officer during the course of an arrest, this law could be used to hide the identities of officers accused of deploying excessive force or other unconstitutional policing. South Dakota's version of the law doesn't even require criminal charges to be officially filed by prosecutors for these protections to take effect. All it takes is being booked on charges, even if prosecutors decide not to move forward.

All the good intentions in the world won't undo the collateral damage. Police officers -- who already have access to a wealth of extra rights -- now have one more to use to further separate themselves from accountability. And it's all because tragedy tends to blind legislators to the possible negative side effects of feel-good legislation that grants one group special rights at the expense of everyone else.

Filed Under: marsy's laws, police, police identities, use of force, victims rights


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  1. icon
    Ed (profile), 26 Oct 2018 @ 8:45am

    Reason #5268 for why you should never trust a cop. Never. They are NOT on your side. They exist solely to protect themselves and their government, not citizens.

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